An Octopus Story, a tale told through beautiful illustrations
What comes to mind for you when you think about an octopus? For Valerie Starr, octopodes symbolize an adventurous spirit.
“I have been fascinated with octopodes for quite some time,” says Starr. “They really are amazing creatures. Recent studies have revealed complex personalities (and a sometimes playful nature) in cephalopods, and scientists are shedding new light on the vastness of their intelligence every day.”
So it would make sense that she would choose an octopus as the main character of her soon to be published comic, Octopus Story. It tells the story of what happens when a curious octopus becomes bored with the ocean and embarks on a journey in the everyday world. Those who find their lives filled with change may take comfort in the story’s message of remaining curious about life and looking positively at each new experience that finds them.
Starr chose to illustrate the story as a comic because of its ability to express things in ways words alone cannot.
“I believe that there are feelings and emotions out there that are too multifaceted and complex to explain precisely or succinctly; however, we can understand and often empathize when those emotions are framed visually and spatially,” she says. “Seeing things happen is a language in itself. With that in mind, comics are a poignant and powerful tool for communication.”
It was early on in life that Starr found her love for comics.
“I started out in late elementary school with an interest in Japanese comics (manga). It wasn’t as popular nor widely available at the time, so back then you pretty much had to scour every resource for any little thing you could find. In middle school I began trying to create my own manga-style comics, with printer paper and No. 2 pencils. My efforts were admittedly sad at best, but it never stopped me from dreaming big.”
Her parents were always supportive of her hobbies and encouraged her to follow her dreams. Starr often found that her biggest obstacle was often herself, so having parents that were proud of her stories was a postive. Also a lover of comics, her mother would often take Starr to the local comic shop and help her find new authors to read.
“She’d sometimes bring home stacks of single issues that she thought I might like,” recalls Starr. “My collection was random and varied; the ones that stand out most in my memory were my issues of X-Men, Ghost Rider, the Forbidden Book series, and any work by Neil Gaiman or David Mack that I could get my hands on.”
David Mack became one of her favorite authors because his method of storytelling framed tales around memories and emotions instead of action and violence.
“David Mack’s Kabuki was the first one to really stick for me, and I’ve carried its influence with me for a long time,” she says. “There was something very striking about Mack’s style; every page is elegantly framed and the panels flow and weave together to revel the complexity of the main character’s struggle with her own identity and troubled past.”
In college, Starr discovered that she loved stories and finding ways to share them. “At the very root of it, I’m a storyteller,” she says.
When she met her now-husband Talcott Starr, her love for comics was expanded infinitely. Starr is the author behind Rescue Archaeololgy. “Talcott is like having my own comics librarian,” she says. “If I show even the slightest inkling of an interest in a subject, there’s a good chance he will have anywhere from three to thirty separate comics on the matter as recommended reading for me… and will quickly run off to eagerly bring them all out to me in a big stack. His eagerness to share his knowledge of the comic world with me has broadened my awareness of what is out there so much.”
Along with her parents, Starr credits her husband for getting her back into art and getting Octopus Story started. “He encouraged me, and kept me focused and on track. Like the stacks of comics, he handed me tons of reference books for getting into drawing comics, and offered me lots of advice from his own experiences. He built up the courage in me to believe in myself. It was after meeting him that I was able to again try to pursue my dreams, and so far it’s been pretty darn good.”
The story came to her one day when she was doodling and sketching, just filling some time during the day. “I ended up drawing out an image of an octopus who was as bored in its situation as I was. And then, I wondered, what might that octopus do in that situation? Maybe something would happen; maybe it would take off and find places exciting and new, stir up some excitement for itself. When life doesn’t come to you, it’s best to go out and find life yourself, right? So the next page came. And the next. And pretty soon we were on a boat together, and soaring into the sky with a bunch of balloons, and seeing all sorts of wonderful new things.”
Octopus Story is available fully online, but Starr decided to explore publishing using CreateSpace in order to reach a wider audience. “It’s true we’re well into the digital age now, but there’s still something magical about holding a physical book in your hand,” she says. “It creates an intimate relationship between the storyteller and the reader.”
If you would like to own a copy of the book, Starr is currently running a Kickstarter for pre-orders. It has already passed the successfully funded mark and she has been adding extra incentives as the total climbs.
“I’m really excited to get this first book out, but as I keep telling myself this is only book one,” she says. “I want to see the story evolve further, and go out with Octopus and Cat on more and more adventures. There’s a whole world of imagination out there to be explored, yet. I’m curious to see where Octopus decides to go next.”
Valerie and Talcott will have a table at SPACE, the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo, on April 13 and 14. Talcott will be promoting his Rescue Archaeology comics, and Valerie will be selling copies of the Octopus Story book, as well as prints and miscellaneous merchandise. To pre-buy, visit the Kickstarter page.